Cuomo, in First State of State Speech, Vows Break From Tradition

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to break from tradition and detail how he plans to tackle New York's fiscal crisis in his first State of the State speech Wednesday.

The State of the State speech is often a stage for politicians to dazzle with soaring rhetoric rather than lay out concrete agenda items, but Cuomo said he would use the address as a forum to discuss his specific plans for the state.

“I’ll be providing and presenting an emergency financial reinvention plan,” Cuomo said in his inaugural address on Jan. 1, an outline he described as a “blueprint for change, a blueprint for action.”

Cuomo is expected to call for a freeze in state worker salaries. Union contracts expire March 31, and any new pay arrangements will have to be enacted through collective bargaining. Steve Madarasz with the Civil Service Employees Association said the union will consider the proposal depending on how the governor presents it. He said the union would reject a “unilateral edict from above that might not even be legal.”

Robert Ward, with SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute of Government, said Cuomo is wise to not just recite a laundry list of proposals and new programs. Cuomo needs to go further, he said, and explain how he’ll change the culture of the Capitol that’s led to the multi-year, multi-billion-dollar deficits.

“The traditional budget culture in Albany holds that we want to provide services and the cost is very much a secondary consideration,” Ward said. “We pay very little attention to the results.”

Cuomo has promised that he will not agree to any new taxes, yet he still has to close a nearly $10 billion budget gap. Education and health care are the two biggest segments of the budget, so a larger portion of cuts is likely to come from those two areas.

Ward said Cuomo will need to rally the public to his side if he has to make unpopular cuts to schools and hospitals.

And Cuomo is attempting to reach out to average New Yorkers. He’s breaking with a more than 85-year tradition by not holding the speech in the ornate Assembly chambers at the Capitol. Instead, he’ll speak at a more modern state convention center that can hold hundreds more people, including members of the public chosen by lottery. Ward said the change of venue may feel more inclusive and less “clubby.”

In another break with tradition, majority party legislative leaders have also been invited to speak. Senate Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, said he intends to outline his vision for the GOP over the next two years.

“You have to cut spending, you have to reform government, you have to cut taxes,” said Skelos, adding that those ideas are in sync with what Gov. Cuomo has been talking about. “As long as he stays in that direction, we’re going to be there with him,” said Skelos.

Cuomo is also expected to talk about the Capitol’s ethical shortcomings in his speech.